The Office Letter
Blink Section - Product Reviews
From Volume 7, Number 17
(October 22, 2007)
Review: NXPowerLite Compresses Office Files with Ease
Bigger isn't always better, and that's certainly true when it comes to files you want to attach to an e-mail message. One solution: compressing your files, thus saving space as well as the time it takes to transmit your message. If you have a large set of files that you're saving "just in case" or an archive that's taking up a lot of space, you can reclaim a considerable amount of space by compressing the files in place.
I've always been skeptical of compression programs. ZIP, perhaps the most popular compression format for files, generally works well, but I have to assume a certain level of sophistication on the part of my e-mail recipient when I sent a ZIPped file. While most of my peers know how to unzip a file, that's not true of everyone.
NXPowerLite ($ 45, multi-copy licensing available, http://www.nxpowerlite.com) works on Microsoft Office files from Word, Excel, and PowerPoint by compressing their content without changing the file format. Thus, PowerPoint slide shows that are full of graphics, long Word documents that are rich in images, and Excel workbooks that have several charts and graphs, will benefit most.
NXPowerLite offers several layers of compression: you can choose Normal, Extra (greater compression, lower quality), High Quality (less compression, higher quality), Mobile Device, and Custom. Using the standalone interface, I selected the files (or folders) I wanted to compress (see Figure 1), chose the compression mode, set the output folder (it can replace your originals, but I wouldn't recommend that until you've worked with the program for a few days and are comfortable with the compression level you've chosen), and started the job by clicking on the "Optimize" button. Average time to compress a file: under 3 seconds. You read that right -- and that's the average. Even the largest PowerPoint slide set I tested took only 6 seconds.
After the batch job is complete, you can review the results (by opening the file or by seeing the compression statistics), e-mail one or more files, or even further ZIP selected files and e-mail them. If you don't like what you see, it's easy to start over; you may want to choose the Custom level (options are shown in Figure 2), but I was always satisfied with Normal, which provided a fine balance between good results and smaller file size.
You can also compress a file from within Word, Excel, or PowerPoint by using the File/Optimize with NXPowerLite menu command that is added during installation. Furthermore, you can right-click on a file name within a Windows file manager and choose a compression option from the pop-up menu. No matter which approach you take, you always come to the same initial window shown in Figure 1.
Results varied by file type and a document's graphical complexity. I first tested with "normal" compression. A 5.7MB Word document that has a dozen graphics could be compressed to 1.9MB (a 67 percent savings); PowerPoint presentations were cut dramatically -- saving anywhere from 42 percent to 81 percent of their original size. Using high-quality mode for a PowerPoint slide set reduced my 913KB file to 500KB (a 45 percent savings) instead of the 81% savings I'd had in normal mode.
Of the dozens of files I tested, only one PowerPoint slide showed any degradation with Normal compression, and that was in a vendor-supplied logo that appeared grainy. All other graphics were just as sharp and easy to read as their originals.
NXPowerLite left small files -- a 10K Word file, for example -- untouched; the program smartly tells you when it can find nothing to compress (which is what I'd expect for small files). This happened with a large file, too: a 3.8MB, 60-page Word document that listed words in a two-column table, couldn't be compressed either.
NXPowerLite can even compress embedded documents (an Excel chart pasted within a Word document, for example). The program also stays in the background of Outlook; when I queued a message with a large attachment to be sent, a small pop-up box asked me if I'd like to compress the attachment before sending it. Very nice -- and the feature can be turned off so that messages are always or never compressed.
That NXPowerLite saves files into their original file format (for Office 97 through Office 2003, with a free upgrade to a version that will support Office 2007) is a big plus. It can also work with programs that save files in compatible formats, such as OpenOffice and StarOffice, though we did not test that feature.
You'll find a free, full-featured 10-use evaluation version on the company's Web site. If you send large files via e-mail or want to save space currently occupied by archived files, I haven't found anything easier to use than NXPowerLite.
-- James E. Powell
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